27 March 2010

"Foodies on Food Stamps"

There's a new fake-outrage on the blogosphere, and that's of hipsters using food stamps to buy gourmet food. The original Salon article explains the idea and mocks (to a degree) those who are doing this, and two responses defending the hipsters are here and here. I'll be the first to say that I think Whole Foods (where some of these people are shopping) is crap, that I think "organic" is a marketing scam, and that extreme hipsters drive me nuts.

And yet, I'm happy about these kids buying what they want with food stamps. I grew up on the kind of food one associates with food stamps and government assistance (often procured from my older half-sister and grandmother, who would trade food stamps or government commodities to my mother for services such as cleaning or helping them move). Guess what? Yes, it sucks. Wonderbread sucks. Commodity cheese and farina suck. They have no taste. They are horrible for your body.

Now, of course, it is easily possible to cook well and cheaply. I personally subsist on lots of eggs and beans, both of which are cheap. But I refuse to fault any young poor person who'd rather eat this:

than the following:

Is there a golden mean to be found? Probably. But, policy makers and opinion makers cannot find that mean. Economists (including Greg Mankiw in his ubiquitous textbook) have long held that policy makers shouldn't force the poor to spend their assistance on what policy makers think is morally appropriate, and instead let them use it in ways that increase their own utility. That may go too far, but I'd prefer it to any form of nanny state control over the poor, particularly over poor people trying to eat well.

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